Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

Synopsis

Many think of Muslims in Europe as a twentieth century phenomenon, but this book brings to life a lost community of Arabs who lived through war, revolution, and empire in early nineteenth century France. Ian Coller uncovers the surprising story of the several hundred men, women, and children--Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks, and others--who followed the French army back home after Napoleon's occupation of Egypt. Based on research in neglected archives, on the rediscovery of forgotten Franco-Arab authors, and on a diverse collection of visual materials, the book builds a rich picture of the first Arab France--its birth, rise, and sudden decline in the age of colonial expansion. As he excavates a community that was nearly erased from the historical record, Coller offers a new account of France itself in this pivotal period, one that transcends the binary framework through which we too often view history by revealing the deep roots of exchange between Europe and the Muslim world, and showing how Arab France was in fact integral to the dawn of modernity.

Excerpt

This is a book about a France that never quite existed. It is not a counterfactual or fictitious history. It addresses the making and unmaking of a space that had no name and appears nowhere in the official record. All that remains of that space are mute and hardly decipherable traces scattered here and there across disparate archives and libraries: the unusual consonance of certain names inscribed upon headstones along the grey rows of cemeteries and in the pages of the now largely unread works of early Orientalism; the unnamed turbanned heads looking back at us from the paintings and engravings of postrevolutionary France; police reports and petitions filed away to gather dust in archives; letters written in crabbed nineteenth-century Arabic script recounting quarrels and reconciliations whose resonance is almost lost to us.

These names and faces in themselves constitute a remarkable and forgotten gallery, a crowded proscenium jostling with heteroclite individuals: merchants and rogues, scholars and charlatans, soldiers and slaves. Each of these men and women followed strange and surprising paths that illuminate in different ways the several worlds in which they lived. But this book aspires to be more than simply an “anthology of existences,” however surprising or moving those existences may be. Instead, it seeks to examine more fully the space between these individuals, and reconstitute the traces of its texture, its significance, its continuities, and its ruptures. That space was primarily constituted by the specificity of the Arabic language—a shared vector, which for all its multifold vernacular differences created a certain commonality. But that vector carried with it another, more complex set of relationships with Islam—an Islam, that is, conceived in the wider sense of a world at once outside and interlaced with Europe. Yet the space we are attempting to describe . . .

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